Away from the silent nights at the lake

Magnificent Birds Fish-eating eagles, once common in Ireland, have been spotted in Mayo.

Country Sights and Sounds
Michael Kingdon

At night. A hundred geese rose to face the wind, a great, musical jam of gray feathers intent on crossing to the opposite shore. Their voices continued into the darkness, signaling that something could not calm them down.
I had fought against the wind for a mile along the edge of the lake to where the car was. After the boat pulled up and my trout slid into the boot, I had time to stop and rest for a while and admire the full roundness of the moon peeking briefly through the broken clouds. Besides, the Milky Way ran almost from north to south. A shooting star gave a chance to wish. The moment passed too quickly. Besides, what else could I suddenly wish for?
Whimbrel arrives, moves south for a while. It seems like a brief moment as we see them flying in opposite directions. Now their lonely calls must be heard by the young fox, whose hungry cries pierce the growing darkness.
There was a flutter of wings, then a thunderous splash. A few meters away, a large bird emerged from the water and flew west with distinct, rhythmic wingbeats. What could it be? Osprey? I’ve seen it here before, but that was years ago. It’s the right time of year – they’re in transition and quite vagrant in their movements. But they rarely hunt even in the dark.
The night was comfortable, the weather was warm. Bats hunted in the air above, visible only as flickering shadows in the vast expanse. As I shined my torch into the sky, a cloud of flies concentrated in the beam, and into it came terror on their leathery wings. I heard the clatter of tiny teeth as the bat clan charged over and over into the swarm of insects. They rubbed my hand. I felt the movement of air on my cheek. They appeared in threes and fours together, seizing their hapless prey at will and extinguishing the afterlife.
I turned off the torch and let the insects scatter while I tried to count the stars. The universe is silent as far as we can tell. Not the place. In fact, the quieter the night, the louder it gets. The rippling water makes a perfect backdrop, threatening to overwhelm the finer things. However, swarms of insects can be heard humming. A flying insect flies drones throughout the night. Fish break the water in the distance, then the leaves of the trees rustle and rustle in response to the changing breeze.
Sure enough, a plane full of weary travelers flashes red overhead and makes a distinctive sound. Distant traffic, screeching tires on the asphalt and a revving engine: how a person’s work is hindered! It’s getting late and I’m heading home.
This morning came suddenly – I opened my eyes and it was bright and clear like autumn, but cool. I immediately went back to the lake to look for feathers. Surely an osprey would leave me just one to remind me of the night?
In the shallows there was a kingfisher, and in the reeds there was a family of ducks. Schools of small fish chased away schools of smaller fish with the intention of making a good breakfast. I found a lot of feathers, but not what I was looking for.
The osprey was once common in Ireland, but was shot down in the late 18th century. A hundred years later, they were also hunted out of Scotland, but in 1954 they began to colonize this country again.
A number of artificial nesting platforms have been erected on many Scottish lochs to facilitate the migration of these magnificent birds. These became popular with the growing osprey population, so much so that suitable areas are now scarce in much of Scotland. Young birds of Scottish origin are beginning to explore parts of this country. Some even spend the summer here. It seems only a matter of time before we have our own osprey population again.
The Irishbirding.ie website only lists a few sights from Mayo, but many more from the rest of Ireland. These birds have only traveled, but they must see something they like here. The National Parks and Wildlife Service works with the Irish Wildbird Conservancy and the Golden Eagle Trust to provide suitable nesting opportunities. Already the golden eagle, the white-tailed sea eagle and the osprey are becoming more established and after many years of resistance we are welcoming them home.

Michael Kingdon previously wrote these columns under the pseudonym John Shelley. A naturalist and keen fisherman, he lives close to the shores of Lough Carra.

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